Summer can be a wonderful time for pets. Long, warm days, human brothers and sisters out of school and lots of time for attention and much needed exercise! But summer can also bring potential dangers for pets, including hyperthermia, or heat stroke. This article will summarize the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of this sometimes deadly condition.
Heat stroke results from an extreme elevation in body temperature (>106°F) and occurs when heat generation (via metabolism, exercise, environmental conditions, etc) exceeds the body's ability to dissipate heat (via conduction, convection, radiation and evaporation). Severe hyperthermia affects nearly every system in the body and can lead to kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, brain swelling, blood clots or coagulation problems, septicemia, liver disease, heart muscle damage/failure, fluid buildup in the lungs and shock.
Any dog or cat can be affected, although the condition is more common in dogs. Especially at risk are brachycephalic (short nosed) breeds, animals with cardiovascular or respiratory problems, older animals and overweight animals. Heat stroke can occur when animals are confined in non-ventilated areas, deprived of water and/or shade, or subjected to forced heat (for example, hot dryers after bathing in an unventilated area).
Animals suffering from heat stroke may show one or more of the following clinical signs: extreme panting and respiratory distress, collapse and inability to rise, agitation, foaming at the mouth or thick, ropey saliva, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures, and very red gums or pale gums. These signs indicate a true emergency and the pet should be brought to the hospital immediately. If a pet is showing the above signs:
WHAT TO DO:
- Remove the pet from the environment where the hyperthermia occurred
- Move the pet to the shade or indoors and direct a fan on him/her
- Begin cooling the pet with cool (not cold) water on the trunk and legs (a tub or garden hose works well)
- If possible, obtain and record the rectal temperature
- Call and transport to the hospital immediately after wetting the animal
WHAT NOT TO DO:
- Do NOT use cold water or ice for cooling unless under the guidance of a veterinarian (this causes peripheral vasoconstriction and shivering, both of which act to increase the body temperature)
- Do NOT delay examination of the pet by a veterinarian
- Do NOT attempt to force the animal to eat or drink
- Do NOT leave the pet unattended
- Do NOT overcool the pet
Upon arrival at the hospital, the pet will be immediately examined by a veterinarian and cooling procedures will be continued. Usually diagnostic testing (bloodwork, urinalysis, x-rays, EKG, coagulation profile, etc) will be performed to evaluate for systemic problems and organ damage. Basic supportive care and specific treatments for detected abnormalities will be instituted immediately.
Prognosis for animals with heat stroke depends on a multitude of factors including length of time of hyperthermia, amount of organ damage, age and physical condition of the pet, and response to treatment. In general the prognosis is guarded, but the sooner the pet is treated the better their chances for recovery.
Prevention of heat stroke is critical.
- Keep pets indoors during times of very high temperatures and ensure proper ventilation
- Do not cage animals outdoors without adequate shade and water
- Do not leave animals in closed compartments exposed to the "oven effect" of the sun (parked cars, etc)
- Allow free access to cool drinking (and if possible, bathing) water when playing with or exercising pets outdoors in times of high temperatures
- Do not exercise pets outdoors during the hottest times of the day
- Take increased precautions with elderly pets, overweight or ill animals, and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds
Please have lots of fun this summer with your furry family members and remember to take precautions against hyperthermia!